Pre-Race
I’m finally getting used to this triathlon thing. This was my fourth race, and I’ve finally shaken the nerves associated with packing the night before.  Racing three different sports in one day requires a lot of gear, and if you forget even one item—swim goggles or bike shoes, for instance—you are done for the day.  But packing was easy this time around and I got a good night’s sleep.

The race was held at Johnson Branch State Park on Lake Ray Hubbard.  It’s about an hour north from my house, but the drive was worth it.  The park was beautiful, with classic Texas country roads and blooming Spring-time flowers.  The weather was perfect too—around 60 degrees in the morning but sunny and 70 degrees by the race’s end.

This might have been my fourth race, but it was my first at the Olympic distance.  I have been ready to race this distance since I got sick at the end of the season right before my first planned Olympic, so I had more impatience than nerves about the coming day.  I knew that stepping up a distance meant racing against faster athletes, so I didn’t care as much about my placement.  But my target time was 3 hours 10 minutes, and if I could break 3 hours I would be thrilled. 

Swim (26 minutes 47 seconds, 197 out of 266)
The swim was just short of a mile: 1,500 meters or the equivalent of thirty laps in a pool.  Thirty laps doesn’t sound like much, but a mile of open water stretching far out into Lake Ray Hubbard is definitely intimidating.  I actually had to squint to see the buoys from shore.  But the beach start was awesome. I ran into the water with 40 or so other guys from my age group, dove head-first when the water was waist-high, and began a long swim in green, murky water churning with arms and legs. And even though it was a bit chilly at the start of the race, the water temperature was a perfect 70 degrees and actually warmer than the air.  Unlike my last race, jumping into the water caused only a half-second of shock and then I was in good shape.

I ended up passing a handful of swimmers, but I also got passed, including by the top swimmer of the younger men’s age group that started five minutes after we did.  It was windy today, and the chop on the water’s surface occasionally hit me in the face as I turned to breathe. I’m glad I practiced bilateral breathing so often in the pool, because I definitely needed it to avoid the chop each time I changed direction.  After circling a handful of buoys and heading back to shore, my hand hit sand and I popped up to run out of the water, up the beach, and to transition.

T1 (2 minutes 51 seconds)
It felt like a long run up the State park path from the beach to transition, but it gave me a chance to focus on the coming bike ride.  Everything went smoothly and I ran my bike to the mount line and headed out.

Bike (1 hour 18 minutes 54 seconds, 200 out of 266)
This was my first race riding in the aero position, with my seat moved forward, aerobars installed, and my body draped over the bike.  The wind was blowing about 10-15 mph but I barely noticed it.  It felt great.  The course was filled with rolling hills and almost no flats, but nothing really steep.  I only had to stand once and I only left the aero position a few times.  I ate a gel about 15 minutes into the ride and drank one bottle of water along the way.  About 6-8 miles of the bike route, along Hemming Road, was very rough pavement that made my whole bike shake as if I was riding on cobblestone.  My butt and lower back definitely took the brunt of the punishment during that stretch.  But overall, it was a beautiful route, with farm houses and horses and cattle scattered across the countryside. If I were on a training ride, I would have definitely taken lots of pictures.

T2 (1 minute 59 seconds)
Besides a slight problem slipping my foot into one of my running shoes, T2 went as smoothly as T1.  This was my fastest set of transitions ever.  If I can keep my total transition time to around 5 minutes in each race I run, I will be happy.

Run (58 minutes 33 seconds, 214 out of 266)
I’m really not sure what happened out on that run course today.  I mean, I did spend this winter focused on improving my run, and I did add an extra run workout into my weekly schedule this year.  But this course was hilly and I started it after hours of hard swimming and biking.  So how exactly did I set a personal best 10K time and a personal best average pace?  Honestly, I’m not sure.  I walked through all of the water stations as I always do, and I negative-split this leg quite nicely.  But this run just felt incredible.  I’d push myself up a hill and not need to recover.  I’d increase my speed at each mile and my heart rate stayed steady.  I’d temporarily speed up to pass someone in front of me and I still felt fine.  For the first time ever, I actually enjoyed the run more than the swim or the bike.  I ended up with a 9:27 average pace and and final time almost a minute faster than my last standalone 10K race.

Final Result: 2 hours 49 minutes 2 seconds, 205 out of 266
Wait, what?  I didn’t end up just under three hours, but way under three hours.  When I first saw my time I had to walk over to the finish-line official and ask him to double-check it.  I couldn’t believe it.  In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that the route was a bit short—about 5% short on the bike leg—but at my average pace I still would have finished well under 3 hours.  I guess I underestimated myself, which in my world is always a pleasant surprise.

My position relative to the field was definitely back of the pack—74% for the swim, 75% for the bike, and 80% for the run.  But I finally evened out my run placement and came in under three hours in my first ever Olympic-distance triathlon with only a year of training in all three sports.  I only really started exercising for the first time in my life at age 34 and triathlon has already helped me in all sorts of mental and physical ways, but days like today are what I look forward to for years to come.

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